I am well acquainted with the usual death penalty polemics. While they have merit the usual crop inevitably exclude my paramount reason for opposing it: capital punishment is the dominion of the tyrant. Capital punishment is the ultimate expression of ownership of the individual by the State. It is the thing that is most often enunciated with a kind of lip-smacking self-satisfaction by both the despot and the angry and impotent little person who adores him. It is the quintessential pronouncement of the totalitarian mind: do as I say or I will take your life away from you.
I hate it viscerally, with a cellular hatred. It’s in my DNA to hate it. I know it for what it is and what it leads to. Its inevitable ravages may be read in the emaciated faces of terrified North Koreans, in the cowed and cowering eyes of Saudi women, in the downcast, joyless countenances of peoples who have groaned beneath the unsupportable boot of repressive governments everywhere for time immemorial, back to the earliest recordings made by the first daguerreotypes. It is a poison that is never satisfied until everyone is poisoned by it.
But it is just one of the many expressions of the larger language of tyranny. That language loves death and guns and exclusion. Its accents can be heard at rallies where the cheers are joyless and primal, the slogans full of hate, the speeches filled with retaliations. It is the language that replaces humor with mockery, strength with repression, justice with vengeance, freedom with control. It is the distancing language that transforms entire peoples into things, paperboard cutouts, cliches neatly packaged in stereotypes easy to dispose, exclude, despise and even kill.
It is the simple language of simplistic solutions to complicated problems for people who don’t want to think. It is the hypnotizing language of the charismatic leader who divides the world into opposing factions called them and us. It is the language of the shortcut that hides the lie behind a single word or phrase that gets repeated over and over and over until it becomes a kind of truth, a facile truth, an alternative truth.
It was the language of Hitler, of Stalin, of Mussolini and Mao, and it is the language of Donald Trump. It is the language that is adopted sooner rather than later by everyone in servitude to Trump if they expect to survive. Men and women who lose their stomach for the rapacious course of the language of tyranny are quickly replaced by the vicious ambitious from below.
It first begins as the language of quibbling technicalities, of hairsplitting, of spin. When questioned it responds with smouldering undertones of anger, anger fuelled by outrage that looks forward with hopeful anticipation to the day when it can have its interlocutors jailed or even murdered. Until then it responds resentfully, arrogantly.
George Orwell warns us where it ends. The language of tyranny starts down many paths from many directions but it has only one destination. “If you want a vision of the future,” Orwell cautions, “imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever.”
A leader needs to be neither competent nor wise in order to successfully employ the language of tyranny. He need only be evil. Donald Trump is an evil fool who has embraced the language and habits of the tyrant. His success is a consequence not of skilful leadership but of the contagious virulence of that language. It has spread like the Black Death among craven Republicans. Trump has millions of gun-carrying followers ready to harm or even murder people Trump doesn’t like, and so any who would oppose him also fear him.
Should Trump receive a second term there will be little to stop him. He will no longer even need to pretend to be serving anything but himself because he won’t be running for reelection. That is when he will become Donald Trump at his most dangerous. We simply cannot afford to let that happen. There is one force and one force alone that can stop him. Not one man, not one woman, but we the people, united as a single, consolidated, monolithic, unstoppable force of voters. We are the only force on earth that can bring him down.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.